Sasha: Sasha here, with Bettina Koblick our Chief People Officer at ForeScout.
Bettina, tell us about your experience as a woman in the workplace.
Bettina: I entered the workplace about 33 years ago, I was a young, single mother, mostly concerned with getting a paycheck, having health insurance and paying my bills on time.
I worked in agriculture, which was a very male-dominated industry. In the warehouse there were posters of scantily clad women holding tomatoes. It was sometimes a little rough walking to work because we had to navigate a lot of catcalling, etc. And then in the office, I’d be asked to do things that my male counterparts weren’t being asked to do like getting coffee, taking notes, etc. At the time I felt it was just reality, it’s just the way it is, put one foot in front of the other. I didn’t like it, but I wasn’t overly concerned with it.
Sasha: What was your “aha” moment that changed your perspective?
Bettina: It came about 25 years later. I was head of HR at Symantec and we were hosting Sheryl Sandberg during International Women’s Month. She talked about her book Lean In, and all the things that women and girls experience. It resonated with me. And, surprisingly, I got really angry.
I had this weird reaction of getting angry with myself because 1- for so long I just ignored the issue. And 2- I was now in a position to do something about it, yet I wasn’t. I was talking about it but not actively doing anything about it because historically I felt people should just toughen up and deal with it.
Sasha: You did! For 25 years.
Bettina: Yeah! So shouldn’t everybody? When Sheryl spoke, I really had a moment of “No, this is something that fundamentally needs to change in the world, in culture, in corporate culture.”
Sasha: You’ve mentioned that spurred you to do a bunch of research around women in leadership, tell us more about that.
Bettina: An interesting study: some 8,000 leaders, men and women, were evaluated by their peers, the people that worked for them and their bosses on 14 key leadership traits such as having high integrity, being self-reflective, walking the walk. In all but two of the categories, women ranked higher than men. Yet, you see a big misconception in the workplace, by both men and women, around women in leadership positions.
It then makes you wonder, if that’s the case, why is it that the leadership pipeline, as it progresses to higher and higher levels, shrinks for women? You could argue it’s just plain discrimination, you could say that women opt out of the workplace to focus on family, you could say that men don’t allow them to get to the next place. You could argue all kinds of things. I think it’s a combination of all.
Sasha: Another interesting notion is we sometimes see women coming up through the leadership pipeline feeling like they need to behave like their male leadership counterparts. You’re being molded and trained to behave in a certain way that’s doesn’t necessarily bring out your strongest, innate leadership traits.
Bettina: Definitely. I actually said to one of my previous bosses that I sometimes felt uncomfortable in meetings because I needed to behave in a way that’s not natural to me. But it’s the only effective way I know to get heard “in a man’s world”.
He was surprised. He just thought I was an outspoken person who was comfortable saying whatever I needed to say, not realizing that for me it was an effort.
Sasha: I think for a lot of women it’s uncomfortable to be confrontational or assertive. But that’s the culture that exists in many workplaces.
Sasha: It is International Women’s Month. What does that mean to you?
Bettina: All of us need to talk about what it means to be a woman in the world, in the workplace, in our community. Women around the world are more oppressed than any other large group, and that goes across all nationalities, backgrounds and ethnicities. Violence against women is rampant. Women in the workplace don’t do as well as men. And while we’re focused on the workplace in this interview, some of these workplace issues are “champagne problems”. They’re problem we shouldn’t ignore, but there’s a bigger conversation to be had. So, I think International Women’s Month highlights all of these important topics and forces us to talk about them.
There was an interesting program I read about awhile back about micro loans. Small entrepreneurs in underdeveloped countries were given micro business loans. Not surprisingly, the women entrepreneurs did disproportionately well when given these micro loans because of their sense of community, because of the way they invested and reinvested these loans. And again, it shows that there is real value in empowering women to do lead in areas that they haven’t been traditionally empowered to do so.
Sasha: It’s a great opportunity to shine a light on the injustices but also highlight all the beautiful ways women can contribute to our world.
Thank you so much for joining us. Thank you for watching and Happy International Women’s Month.